Thursday, September 22, 2011

Biggest (and Oldest) Losers

Photobucket I admit it. I am a fan of Biggest Loser.  It is one of the few reality television shows I like.  I know, I know...reality TV is not reality.  That is not what I want to write about though. 

This week on the Biggest Loser season opener, when contestants arrived on The Ranch, they were divided into three teams of five based on age: the youngest players (all under 30), the middle players (ages 30-49) and the older players (ages 50 and over).  When I first heard this, my immediate thought was “well, the older team won’t last long.” Then I thought, “well, maybe one or two of the most fit/most determined might make it to a shuffle of the teams.”  After that came “well, aren’t I ageist.”  And here I work in the field of aging!

The first episode ended exactly how I thought it would end. The “old” team lost the weigh in and had to eliminate someone. I could hypothesize on all the reasons or philosophical ideals behind how the game has been structured. I bet that might actually generate a lot of comments or discussion.  However, all three teams had members who lost a lot of weight and those who didn’t lose as much.   It boils down to motivation, hard work, genetics, and another dozen variables or so.

What I have been thinking about is that, despite working in the field of aging, I made an assumption about an entire group. I focused on only the group, rather than on the individuals. It’s easy to fall into this trap when we are forced to think this way about many things -- health policy or Social Security for example.  The challenge outside of these things is to see the individual separately from the larger group.

My challenge to you, dear reader, is this: Take a moment to examine a relationship with an aging individual in your life. Are there ways you react to, or interact with, that person that are shaped by how you think about “the aging population” as a whole, rather than your direct experience with that individual? Will you share it here? Do you think you’ll do anything differently now that you've thought about it?  Really, I want to know.

Kristin Huff
Senior Projects Director


Laura Lee Carter aka the Midlife Crisis Queen said...

Dear Kristin:
Thank you for helping us all challenge the stereotypes in our own heads. Remember, don't believe everything you think.

As a member of society who is 50+ I need to constantly challenge myself not to generalize in a negative way about aging. These are truly the BEST YEARS of my entire life. What's not to like about the freedom and self-confidence bestowed by years of experience!

Lucia said...

I don't think your assumption was ageist at all. Since you work in the field of aging you know that, other things being equal, the over-50 set (to which I belong) metabolize more slowly, tire more quickly, are more prone to injury (so have to watch how and how much we exercise), and have less strength and stamina (ditto). Those are just facts, and they all tilt this playing field against older people. Suppose you took a group of preteens, one of teenagers and one of thirtysomethings and gave them each a calculus problem to solve. It's not ageist to predict instantly that the preteens will be on the short end of this one: sure, there might be a math prodigy in the group, but you wouldn't bet on it.

I've read that women over 50 who aren't on a diet have to exercise at least an hour a day just to maintain their weight. If we want to lose weight we have to diet and exercise. Since I'm doing both at the moment, I have no trouble believing it. (I'm averaging about a pound a week, which is good, but it's a lot more work than it was ten years ago.)

LeeAnn Langdon said...

I have to agree with Lucia's observation that aging bodies respond differently to exercise. And if someone has been inactive for many years, it can be a real challenge to jump start the metabolism again. That said, older adults typically have much better body awareness and self awareness, both of which can be a great asset in a challenge like The Biggest Loser. I, too, admit to a secret love/hate relationship with The Biggest Loser!